Science communication and a day out of the office

This isn’t my usual sort of post. It’s not about a writing, but about indulging my geek-side.

The theme for the day was set when my daughter wanted to watch Commander Chris Hadfield singing Space Oddity (or ‘the major Tom song’) in the International Space Station. We then had a long discussion about girl astronauts and guitars spinning in space on the walk to before-school club.

Later, the day job took me to the Hull University science showcase (#Hullscishow), where I learned about new cancer biomarkers, the PET scanning facility (positron emission tomography – not a scanner for poodles!) , artificial ‘leaves’ for turning sunlight into energy, a tiny water powered car, dry water (seriously!), new OLEDS for display screens (LCDs were discovered in Hull, don’tchaknow) and a hundred other things that were being developed there. All this in the fabulous building that is Hull City Hall.

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A volcano of coloured balls.

Quite apart from providing a place for the likes of me to play with technology I’ve only seen on paper before, the showcase was good entertainment. The morning had been dedicated to showing science to schoolchildren. They got to build DNA out of sweeties, compete to design more efficient wind turbines, see some enormous bacteria (I want one!), play in a racing car, wear 3-D goggles and stand inside a virtual skull and, my favourite, inject ‘radioactive tracer’ into Barbie. And then, in case there wasn’t enough excitement, @volcanologist and @sci_ents simulated a volcano by exploding a bottle of water and liquid nitrogen in a barrel full of coloured plastic balls. It was LOUD.

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What someone brought to the party – campylobacter (diahorrea), E.coli and, Streptococcus (sore throat), Syphllis and Gonorrhea.
K-nex windmills powered by desk fans
K-nex windmills powered by desk fans

Since the schoolkids had gone by the time I got there, I got to try all this stuff too. I thought the giant bacteria were adorable – a couple of those E.coli would make lovely cushions for my sofa.

This is science communication at its best. Especially impressive were the PhD students. The exhibits had been carefully designed to be interactive, yet informative. They did a great job of explaining fairly complex science projects (they were explaining PhD projects) in easily understood terms. They even managed to ground some of the more ‘blue skies’ research to actual applications.  

A display showing the effect of grass vs tarmac on water run off. I LOVE the daisies.
A display showing the effect of grass vs tarmac on water run off. I LOVE the daisies.

They’d been trained in group work and presentation, so they were even able to discuss each other’s projects. Above all they were enjoying themselves. Their enthusiasm and passion did more for their subjects than any number of free sweets and pens could. These young people will go into the world of work able to communicate with clarity and sparkle – something that will serve them well regardless of what they go on to do.

When things got quieter, people wandered across and looked at each other’s stands. Synergies were discovered, interesting conversations of the ‘So if you applied that to my work we could see if…’ variety sprang up. This is how science works. Ideas formed in the pub (or exhibition hall) supported by results generated in the lab.

It was science communication at its best. Well done chaps. I’ll definitely be going again next year. Giant bacteria and things that go boom. How could you possibly resist?

2 thoughts on “Science communication and a day out of the office

  1. It was pretty good fun. The artificial leaves were pretty impressive. There’s a lot of great collaborative work going on between departments.
    Thanks for dropping by.


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